by Chris Guillebeau, 2012
It’s been something of a goal of mine to start my own business. While I’m typically wary of books that promise to show you how easy and affordable it is and all you need is a can-do spirit and a little web know-how, The $100 Startup was featured in an ebook sale for $1.99 and I figured, why not? I know Chris Guillebeau has been touted as one of those serial entrepreneurs who flies all around the world, having created businesses that support his lifestyle, and I read a few of the websites that have spoken highly of him in the past. I wish I could say this book surpassed my expectations of being a glossed over DIY manual for would-be self-employed business owners, but it didn’t. It was really what I was expecting it to be, which is to say, containing not much that I didn’t already know.
Guillebeau’s thesis is that you don’t have to have tons of money to invest in a new business. You just have to have an idea and people willing to buy what you’re selling. I know he’s speaking to those old-school folks who believe you need $10,000 of cash lying around to kick up a venture, but his quashing of that isn’t groundbreaking to me and I really wished he had spent more time providing detailed portraits of the businesses and individuals he profiles. What’s interesting to me isn’t snippets on people who had an idea, quickly threw together a website or a product, and now rake in an extra $1,000 or more a month. No, what interests me is how long it took people to get there. I’m sure there are those who just stumbled upon an idea that happened to stick, but I have to believe that there are many more who experienced false starts and setbacks and were forced to retool their ideas so that they were eventually profitable. I know this doesn’t make for the most compelling story – sometimes you have to quit and start over and do things differently than how you imagined – but it’s real.
I don’t mean to say that this book is full of people who struck it rich on a whim. Guillebeau does include examples of people who had to rethink their target customer and rehash the purpose of their endeavor. It’s just that he never goes into enough detail about any of this that makes me think, ah yes, even with obstacles, success can still be found! Many of these are “accidental” businesses – a map making business formed after a trip, a trip planning business formed by someone who initially just shared cost-saving information with friends, a music teacher who devised a program to help himself manage his students. Of course, these are valid ways of starting a business, but what about those who set out do something specific? How did they go from idea to profit? And what about all the other brilliant ideas meant to be businesses that ultimately failed?
I suppose if you’re interested in starting a business and have put absolutely no thought into it and have talked to no one about it, The $100 Startup is a good place to begin. It’ll definitely force you think outside the corporate box and give you suggestions on how to maximize your hustle. But, if you’re beyond step one, I’d recommend spending your time elsewhere.